South Walton teen celebrates birthday with a quinceanera at Mexican orphanage
South Walton High School student Ally Woodard didn’t celebrate her 15th birthday in typical fashion.
Instead on Aug. 1 she was treated to a beautiful quinceanera at Casa Hogar Elim orphanage in Nuevo Lardo, Mexico with more than a hundred kids.
“It was the greatest night of my life,” Ally said.
After several months of planning, the founder and director of Casa Hogar, Mama Lupita and Juany Reyes, were determined to honor Ally’s dedication to the orphanage.
“Ally has been here many times to help us, and the children love her and look forward to her visits,” said Reyes. “A quinceanera was the perfect way for us and the children to show how much she means to us.”
Ally has visited the orphanage five times since 2012 as an Ambassador for the Art Miles Mural Project where she delivered new shoes, art supplies, clothing and food to the orphanage. Her 2012 YouTube documentary has more than 50,000 views and was seen by producers at TV Azteca, a national Mexican network.
After watching Ally’s short film, TV Azteca featured Mama Lupita on their program “Tiempo de Heroes” (Time of Heroes). When three years ago she went from being a local to a national hero.
In 2013, Ally’s 8th grade Spanish class at Emerald Coast Middle School, led by teacher Susan Marino, took part in an Art Miles cultural exchange with the Casa Hogar children. ECMS and the orphanage took turns, each alternately painting half a 5×12 foot canvas with scenes depicting their lives in Walton County and Nuevo Laredo.
In 9th grade last year at South Walton High School, Ally’s Spanish III teacher Ana Rodriguez had her class make cards at Christmas and Valentines for the children at Casa Hogar.
“These types of activities mean so much to our kids,” said Reyes. “Ally has had an incredibly positive impact upon Casa Hogar and that is why we wanted to show her how much she means to us.”
It worked, Ally said the quinceanera made her feel “like a princess.”
“I couldn’t believe it was me in that beautiful dress Mama Lupita had picked out,” she added. “The kids were dressed up, they had decorated the church, the courtyard, and they had been preparing food for several days. The whole experience was so surreal.”
Ally said the orphanage has become a huge part of her life.
“The children all call me amiga,” she said. “Some tell me I am their ‘hermana’ – their sister.”
“They are my family. I can’t let them down.”